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Empower

Conquering the Disease of Fear

From finding common ground with warlords, introducing the Taliban to change, and working with NFL greats such as Marshawn Lynch, this uplifting and inspirational memoir from coach and personal development expert, Tareq Azim, will help you build a relationship with fear and embrace your own power.

A descendant of Afghan nobles, Tareq Azim’s family was forced to flee their homeland in 1979. He assimilated in the United States through his love of sports, excelling in wrestling, boxing, and football. In 2004, Azim decided to visit his home country, and upon arriving, he discovered countless children living on the streets, waiting for the inevitable recruitment into terrorist networks and anti-peace militias. Azim’s close encounter with the ravages of a war-torn society taught him how pain can generate the most intense forms of fear, anxiety, and depression. He had found his salvation through sports and physical activity, and he knew these children could, too.

He put his method to the test and created the Afghan Women’s Boxing Federation, the official governing body for women’s sports for the National Olympic Committee and the first ever in the history of any Islamic republic, proving that Afghanistan was ready for social change by addressing the harms of accumulated trauma.

Now, his remarkable full story is revealed in this book that is both a memoir and a roadmap. Through his own experiences, he effortlessly explains how fear is an invitation to seek a deeper feeling within—a feeling that is achieved when we engage in righteous and sincere struggle. Only then will our choices be guided by values that help us avoid the pitfalls of moral and personal failure. Featuring actionable advice and varied clear-eyed case studies, including MMA star Jake Shields, former congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, and San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York—Empower is the ultimate guide to living a life understanding that fear is there to help you.

Chapter One: Truth CHAPTER ONE TRUTH
I was in the second grade when I first came face-to-face with the truth.

It happened the night we visited my mom at her job as a hostess at a local Indian restaurant. She was always working two or three jobs to help support the family, yet she still did all the cooking and housework that mothers so often do. On this particular evening, she wasn’t able to cook dinner for us, so she told us to meet her at the restaurant. My sister, my brother, and my father all went there and sat at a table together.

The restaurant was next to a bowling alley in our hometown of Concord, California. It was a dark, classy little place with red candles all around. When the restaurant’s owner saw us, he was not pleased. He went over to my mom and told her we had to leave. I guess he wanted this to be a nice, upscale joint, and that image in his mind did not include a table full of refugees from Afghanistan.

I felt bad for my mom when I heard what he said. I was young, but I didn’t want things to be awkward for her. Neither did my dad, so he told us to get up and leave. He was the least confrontational person I have ever known, but my mom wasn’t having it. She quit her job right on the spot, threw off her apron, and took me, my brother, and my sister by the hands.

My mom would never tolerate us being insulted like that. Her feeling was If my boss does not want my family around, then this is not a place where I want to work. I remember my dad had this smirk on his face as we walked out. He was so proud of my mom for not letting the need for a paycheck take away her honor. We ended up eating at a McDonald’s across the street.

My dad, Sayed, on the other hand, was a gentle soul, just the sweetest human being in the world. From a very young age, I thought of myself as his protector because he was so easy to take advantage of. He had no idea how powerful he was, how handsome he was, how smart he was. He was very quiet and kept a lot of things to himself. I used to think of this as weakness, but now I understand the roots of his behavior. I had no idea at the time that he had come from a family in Afghanistan that was considered nobility, that he owned enormous areas of land that should have made him wealthy. It wasn’t until my late teens that he finally told me how his family had walked all over him and tried to take his land for themselves. He depended on me to give him strength.

My mom was the daughter of a prominent Afghan general named Shah Wali. He was the first commanding jet fighter pilot in the history of Afghanistan and played an instrumental part in developing Bagram Air Base. The general was very respected and revered, which made him a prime target when the Soviets invaded and took over the country in 1979.

There’s a reason I didn’t know how much land and money my father had until I was much older. He never wanted us to feel entitled to that wealth or show a bad work ethic because we felt like we had something coming down the road. I can never thank him enough for that. Because of him, I work as hard as anybody I know and surround myself with people who push the concept of work ethic to a level I didn’t know existed.

My parents were disruptors before I had any concept of what that meant. On the one hand, they made sure we honored our Afghan heritage and spoke our native languages in the home. On the other hand, they made us do all the things American kids were doing. My parents didn’t want us thinking that the American kids were any better than us. We joined martial arts programs, played in soccer clubs, went camping, and got involved in lots of school activities. That was an unusual approach in our Afghan community. The other kids thought of them as the “cool” parents. So did my brother, my sister, and me.

That is, until it came to the really fun stuff. My parents were so strict, I never got to spend the night at a friend’s house until I was a junior in high school. They wanted to make sure we didn’t get into drinking and smoking dope like a lot of the kids were. I was always angry about that, but Mom explained that it was very important to protect our family name, that we could never do anything to disrespect our grandfather’s spirit.

When she said that, it made me realize that not only were we different because we were part of an Afghan community in America but even inside that community we were different as well. Talk about an overpowering truth.

This is why I’ve never wanted to play victim. I saw a lot of my friends and cousins adopt that mentality, and it led them to do stupid shit like join gangs and break car windows, like they were out to get revenge on all those people who did them wrong. I despised that culture of entitlement. These were young people who were lucky enough to grow up in America. They couldn’t even comprehend living anywhere else. Meanwhile, their parents hadn’t had those same opportunities and were busting their asses to provide for their children. The difference in my family was that my parents were really engaged with us. They wanted to know what we were doing. They saw every report card. I didn’t like when they were strict sometimes, but I still never wanted to let them down. That would have been an insult to my family heritage.

It’s easy to say now how much these things helped me, but imagine learning these truths beginning at the age of seven. Whenever I acted up, I got my ass whupped. It sucked, but they always told me why they were doing these things. I knew my parents loved me, but I always felt like I had to earn their love. So when I got it, that made it much sweeter.

So I don’t like when I see people complain about how bad they have it. Yeah, shit happens, and life isn’t fair for a lot of minorities, immigrants, refugees, or people like me who grew up in tough circumstances. In my case, when someone did me wrong, that just added fuel to my fire. I was determined that there would come a time when I was dependent on no one. If anything, people were going to be dependent on me. They would be eating out of my hand. Someday that would be my truth.

One day when I was nine years old, my cousin Sal and I were riding our bikes. As we came down a hill, I spotted a massive fig tree. My dad always loved figs, so I told Sal to stop so I could grab a bunch to take home to him. I took so many that I had to curl up my shirt to hold them all. I rode the bike with the shirt in my mouth. I couldn’t wait to show those figs to my papa.

I ran inside the house so excited, but when I shouted up to my dad that I had gotten him figs, he didn’t answer. I went upstairs to his bedroom and he was sitting Indian-style, staring at the wall. I called out to him, but he didn’t reply. I reached up and touched his face, but that only made him more tense. He clenched his jaw and balled up his fists. Sal was standing there with me, and he was as shocked as I was. He wrapped his arm around my shoulder and neck. When I called out to my father again, he didn’t respond. When I touched him, he felt like a brick wall. It was frightening.

I called 9-1-1 and told the operator, “I don’t know what to do. My dad is awake and he isn’t talking.” They sent over an ambulance. I called my relatives crying, and a few of them came over. When the ambulance got there, the paramedics sent me downstairs. I was standing outside with my cousin. Next thing I knew, they were taking my dad out of the house in a straitjacket. As soon as I saw that, I started bawling. This was my dad! My hero! I thought they were going to take him somewhere and that he would be gone forever.

At that point, my dad must have snapped out of whatever was happening because he started arguing on his behalf that he wasn’t sick and he wanted to stay. It wasn’t easy because his English was very rough. Looking back, I think he was having an intense anxiety attack. Whatever was going on, it wasn’t normal.

Back then, treatment for mental illness was pretty harsh and primitive. There was so much shame attached to it. The paramedics took him to a mental hospital in Richmond, California. The next day, my mom took us to visit him.

As you can imagine, it was a very traumatic experience. There were a lot of very sick people in that place. I thought they were a bunch of weirdos, and I couldn’t bear seeing my dad in there. They were walking up to him and looking at him real strangely and petting him. My dad was such a good soul. He kept telling us, “Don’t worry, they’re good people, don’t be scared.” But I could see he felt embarrassed and helpless.

From that day on, I was determined that my father would never feel that way again, ever. Not if I could help it.

That’s the thing about mental illness. It can be a huge burden on a family. My mother had a lot of mental struggles, too, so my brother, my sister, and I had to grow up real fast. It’s hard to know for sure what the onset was for my parents’ illnesses, but I’m sure it stemmed from the trauma of going from royalty to peasants in twenty-four hours with no warning or preparation. Until that point, my mom had a cook her whole life. She didn’t know anything about preparing food for her children. She would always be scarred by the memory of the night a group of soldiers barged into her house looking for her father, the famous general. They were Afghans who were working for the communists. You’d think my mom would have cowered in fear, but instead she was talking all kinds of shit, calling them corrupt sellouts. One of them stuck an AK-47 in her mouth to shut her up.

What they didn’t know was that the general was in the back of the house. When he stepped out, the guys practically shit themselves. My grandfather went up to each one of them and slapped him. The guys never even made eye contact, they were so ashamed. But they did their job and took my grandfather out of the house. My mother never saw him again.

My mom’s issues weren’t quite as bad as my dad’s, but they stemmed from heartbreak. She had a lot of anxiety and flashbacks. She is still alive, and this has continued to be a lifelong battle.

This was a big part of my truth, not only during my childhood but well into adulthood. It taught me the importance of seeing clearly who I am, where I came from, and the battles I must fight. One truth I have really come to know is that mental illness is real. It comes in many forms, and it fuels all sorts of destructive behavior. That includes addictions. When someone is addicted to something, it overtakes their entire lives. Nothing is more important than feeding that addiction—not work, not family, not relationships, not money, not health. So in order to help them overcome their addictions, I must first try to get them to face their own hard-core truths.

When I start my first game plan with a new teammate, my first objective is to get him or her to understand that there is no need to be frightened of the truth. Truth is liberating. Truth is empowering. There is no healing without it.

Is it painful to face the truth? Of course. Just like it’s painful to do a squat with five hundred pounds of steel on your back. How do you feel after you do a hundred push-ups? Hurts, doesn’t it? You’ve torn your muscle fibers apart, stretched your tendons and ligaments, built up a ton of lactic acid, gotten your heart rate way up. But what’s the result of all that? You’ve got some big thighs and chest muscles that come in real handy when you’re trying to knock a running back on his ass.

When I tell you that you need to find your truth, you’re probably intimidated, right? Truth is the last thing you want to find. We are taught that the truth hurts. I say the truth should hurt. This is why I believe we need to recondition our language. If we say the truth is going to hurt, then people will avoid it.

It’s like when you played the game Truth or Dare. I always took the dare, and I’ll bet you did, too. No one wants to be asked if they like a girl or a guy. No one wants to be made fun of in front of their friends. Truth is scary because we have a fear of being judged and of having something exposed that can be used against us.

And yet, we must learn the truth because that’s what defines our purpose. Why do I want to laugh? Why do I want to grow? Why do I want to be happy? Why do I want to be loved? I want to teach people that truth is not something they should fear. It’s something they should embrace.

Most people would describe me as a trainer, but I find that label to be very limiting. I like to consider myself whatever people want to consider me. I coach and I instruct, but I don’t want hobbyists. You’re not going to come to me just to burn off a couple of calories. If the teammate is from out of town, he has to fly in and spend four or five days and really commit to the process. My game plans are typically not organized in advance. I want to have natural conversations with people when I dig in.

As with everything else in my work, I bring my own personal search for truth over the course of my life. That process has also been painful at times, but it is what gave me the purpose to launch my business and dedicate myself to broadcasting my message of hope and health around the world.

I was immersed in this kind of work when, in the summer of 2015, I joined forces with a teammate whose enormous gifts were coexisting in his soul with huge demons from his past. In order to slay those demons, I had to help him face his truth.
The Game Plan: Dion Jordan Discovers His Truth
I work with a lot of NFL players, but never more than seven or so at a time. I believe that every single individual has special needs, and if he is not getting that type of attention from me, then he is wasting his money. Plus, I like to work with particular types of people—guys with “baggage.” I want guys who are physical freaks but whose hearts and heads don’t match up to their bodies. I want this because I know how much baggage I carry. If I can help create normalcy in their lives, it is therapeutic for me as well.

One day during the summer of 2015, I was sitting in my office at Empower, my central facility in downtown San Francisco, when an NFL agent named Doug Hendrickson showed up at the door. Doug represents a lot of NFL players and he had been representing me for about seven years. He showed up unannounced and had one of his other clients with him. “I want you to meet Dion,” he said. Turning to his client, he said, “Dion, this is Tareq.” And he left.

The guy’s name was Dion Jordan. I knew exactly who he was, of course. He was an All-American defensive end at the University of Oregon who was selected third in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. When he came out of college, Dion was an absolute physical specimen, standing a chiseled six-foot-six, 252 pounds, full of explosive speed and agility. The guy standing in my office that day bore very little resemblance to the Dion I thought I knew. He was run-down, disheveled, glassy-eyed, and wasting away. It made me heartbroken to see someone who was once so talented and magnificent now looking that way.

Just a few months before, Dion had been hit with a one-year suspension by the NFL for violating the league’s performance-enhancing-substance policy. He had already served a four-game suspension the previous year for failing a drug test. Cut off from football, Dion had nothing but time on his hands, and it was disastrous for him. He returned to his home in Arizona and drowned himself in alcohol. He was also heavily into drugs, especially Ecstasy. Forget about playing football again. At the rate he was going, Dion was not going to be alive much longer.

As Dion was sinking further into his addictions, Doug asked Dion’s girlfriend to bring Dion to San Francisco under the pretense that they were going to see a Giants baseball game. The Giants are Dion’s favorite team, but the morning after the game, Dion went into Doug’s office and broke down sobbing. That was when Doug decided to bring Dion to see me at Empower, which was down the street from Doug’s office at the time. He didn’t even let me know he was coming.

After Doug made the introductions and left, Dion slumped into a chair. I had been through this drill many times before. There was no time for bullshit. “Do you know what it is I do here?” I asked him.

“No,” he said. “I don’t even know why I’m here.”

I sized him up from behind my desk. I’ve got a nice big, comfortable office at Empower, perfect for these types of conversations. My desk is custom-made with cement, and it weighs 756 pounds. Dion was wearing a hoodie and a Giants hat. His eyes were glassy. I explained to him what I did and why. I told him about how I grew up. “I believe you are here because you want to stop feeling guilty about something,” I said. “Am I right?”

Boom, the waterworks started. It poured out of his eyes like a faucet had been turned on. Dion wasn’t crying or sobbing, he just let the tears flow. This was a man in deep emotional pain who immediately believed he was talking to someone who understood him on that level.

How did I know what he was feeling? Because everybody who comes to my office in that type of condition is consumed with guilt. This is the first truth they must realize. The problem is they usually don’t have a safe space where they can acknowledge and address that pain, and therefore do something about it and start feeling better.

When I acknowledged to Dion that I could feel his guilt, and when he acknowledged it in return by allowing himself to be vulnerable, that was our moment of truth. That’s the power of truth.

That first exchange lowered the waterline for us. It allowed me to dig deeper and develop his game plan. I peppered him with questions. “Why do you feel guilty? You’re living with a lot of shame, right? You’re embarrassed? Who have you embarrassed?” Each time he nodded and agreed, and with every prodding he opened up a little more. We were on our way.

I got up from behind my desk and gave him a big hug. I explained that we were going to get him healed but that there would be some relapses along the way and I understood that. I told him he didn’t have to be scared. I think that brought him some relief knowing my expectations of him were not going to be unreasonably high. He didn’t have to worry about disappointing me. We wanted to avoid setbacks wherever we could, but we didn’t have to be fearful of them. We were going to conquer that disease.

It was a good meeting, but I’ve had good meetings before that didn’t lead to any real action. I could tell Dion had a good heart, but he left my office and then I didn’t hear from him for two days. I figured this was just another situation where everyone wants to help someone but no one wants to tell him the truth.

I understood where Dion was coming from because I had come from much the same place. He grew up in a tough area of the Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. His dad was absent and his mom was a drug addict. When Dion was twelve, he and his two siblings were sent to live with an aunt in Arizona. His mom got clean and soon joined them, but it took Dion a long time to forgive her for what she had done to her family. He felt she had chosen drugs over her kids. That was a difficult truth to live with.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Dion suffered severe burns over nearly half his body in 2007. He was trying to use a vacuum cleaner to siphon some gas from one car to another. The vacuum cleaner burst into flames, and soon Dion did, too. He spent a month in a burn unit in a hospital and underwent a series of skin grafts. His doctor told him he might never walk again.

So even though it was amazing that Dion later became the third pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, he still had buried a lot of hard-core truths that were generating fear—fear that he was trying to cure with alcohol and drugs. It was bad luck that he originally got drafted by the Miami Dolphins. There was no way he was going to be able to handle that South Beach scene. He was a natural-born alcoholic, but once he had all that money, he was free to try all kinds of drugs, too.

Dion first tested positive for banned substances in 2014 and was suspended for four games. The Dolphins did what they could to help him, but his addictions were too powerful. His yearlong suspension the following year cost him nearly $6 million. Unfortunately, NFL rules dictated that a player who was suspended was banned from his team’s training facilities, which was the last thing Dion needed. His tendency is to completely isolate himself when things go wrong. With his support gone, he continued his lonely downward spiral.

It was during that frightening binge that Doug brought Dion into my office. Two days later, Dion showed up at Empower again. No call, no heads-up, no nothing. Just walked in at nine thirty in the morning with a backpack over his shoulder and said, “Wassup.”

This is not a man of many words. “You ready to get to work?” I asked. He nodded. I told him I had thought maybe he wasn’t coming back, and he told me he was gone because he had been drinking a lot and wanted to clean up. “Perfect,” I said. “Let’s shake it out.”

I told Dion I wanted to do some basic workouts with him for a few days, and we would progress toward developing a game plan. We started with some light body-weight activities. It didn’t take long for him to break down, physically and emotionally. You have to appreciate how hard it is for a proud, competitive man who was such an Adonis to acknowledge the truth that he is so weak, and all because of bad choices that he made. I mean, this guy was a can’t-miss linebacker and defensive end, and now he couldn’t hold himself in a push-up position for more than a few seconds. He couldn’t hold a squat without shaking. It was my job to try to help him find that buried confidence while also getting an assessment of where his body was. I understood why he was so frustrated, but I encouraged him to stay patient.

Our initial workouts lasted twenty minutes, tops, but he spent entire days with me at Empower. Much of the time was spent reading together. I got him involved in some community service projects in the Tenderloin section of the city. My brother, Yossef, is a police sergeant in that area, and he helps me connect a lot of my clients in this way. Dion also attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings every day. I also let him come to some of our business development meetings so he could hear about investment ideas and other money management techniques. I wanted him to be thinking about the future again and about the notion that someday he was going to be making a lot of money playing football and needed to learn how to handle it better the second time around.

All of this was part of my plan to buy time with Dion so we could develop our relationship. We did a lot of talking and training and reading and eating together. I’ve done a lot of these game plans, but the ones I did with Dion were some of the most emotional I’ve ever been a part of. We sat in my office and I asked him a lot of deep questions. I asked him what his goals were. He said he wanted to be ripped again, to be able to explode out of a stance. We broke down a complete training schedule that I promised would get his body back in NFL shape—eventually.

Then I asked which mental deficiencies he wanted to strengthen as well. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, “let’s start with your insecurities. Do you have any?”

Dion looked down at his scars from those terrible burns he had suffered during his senior year of high school. Understanding this experience was the key to understanding Dion—and his key to understanding himself. Here’s this huge football player and everybody thinks he can just run through walls. Inside, however, he’s broken. Those burns made it difficult for him to go shirtless and show off his body. It gave him major confidence issues. That’s why it was so hard for him to look people in the eye. He has lived through so many tough situations.

We delved into his emotional makeup. We talked about his upbringing. His desire to make sure his mother never relapsed really drove Dion, but it also overwhelmed him. When he messed up, he knew it was inflicting pain on his mother. She was never mad at him, but she was constantly worried. That made everything worse for him.

At the end of every game plan, I ask my teammate, “What do you want me to hold you accountable for this year?” That allows me to package everything we talked about. I know at many points I am going to need triggers to keep him on the right path. “When you feel like quitting, what can I say that will make you want to keep going?”

Dion thought for a few seconds and said, “I want to make my mom smile again.” And then he started bawling.

Only four days had passed before Dion had his first hiccup. He missed his morning appointment and I didn’t hear from him for two days. He came back into my office very apologetic, and we started over again. He understood that Empower was a place of total accountability but zero judgment.

Dion moved to San Francisco and lived in the guesthouse of a friend of Doug’s. He went to AA meetings every day, sometimes multiple times in a day. He met with a therapist who helped him understand that his battles with addiction were related to the fears he had developed during a difficult childhood. That was a truth that Dion needed to accept and deal with.

Our days together were long and full. He’d come to Empower in the morning, work out, and attend some of our sessions. I would take him to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and then back to the gym for another workout. My assignment for him was that we had to do one good deed a day. One afternoon we went to Subway, bought a hundred sandwiches, and drove all over San Francisco giving them to homeless people. We read a chapter of a book together each day. All along, I talked to Dion about his return to the NFL, not as a possibility but as a foregone conclusion. Everyone was already calling him one of the biggest busts in NFL history, but I told Dion that we would get him back there; it was just a matter of when. I wanted him to visualize it, speak it, and believe it.

We kept at it for a full year. After serving his initial suspension, Dion returned to the Dolphins for the 2016 season but he was battling an injured knee and missed the first half of the season. We were a continent apart, but we FaceTimed multiple times a day. Physically he looked great, but his confidence was still extremely delicate. He wasn’t sure exactly what he was capable of, and the team was concerned as well.

He would develop these minor pains and tell his coaches he had to sit out practice. They would call me and give their reports. One day on FaceTime I told him, “Dude, this is all in your head. Your knee is fine.” It took him a while to be able to trust not only the team’s trainers but also his own body. Sometimes the coaches would express frustration to me when Dion got stubborn. I told them that just the fact that he was standing up for himself was a great sign.

The hiccups kept coming, as I expected. A coach from Miami called me to say Dion didn’t show up to practice. This was not something I needed to wait on. My feeling is, with someone like Dion, if you don’t show up for practice one day, you’re probably not coming back.

Two days later, Dion called me. “My bad, bro,” he said. “I’m coming to see you.” He had already come back to San Francisco. We spoke briefly in my office and agreed he would come in the next day so we could get to work. At first he didn’t show when we were supposed to get together, which made me wonder if something had gone wrong again. An hour later he sent me a text message that he was indeed at Empower, but I didn’t know where. Turns out he was getting a massage.

I went down to the front desk and waited for him to finish his massage. He came out, and I could tell from one look at him that he had been drinking. He was acting all giddy and stupid and tried to make a joke about what I was wearing. I just shook my head and went back up to my office.

Later that night, I was at home when Dion sent me another text asking if I would see him. I told him to meet me at my office, but he refused. “I can’t go in there like this,” he said. I went outside and we went to my apartment down the street. I took him out to the terrace and he started crying again. He had fallen off the wagon, and his effort at getting a massage before he saw me was done in hopes of getting the smell off of him. It didn’t work.

He was devastated. “I embarrassed you,” he said. “This ain’t okay.”

He was waiting for me to tear into him, but I didn’t. Instead I said, “Do you know how proud I am of you right now?” He gave me a confused look. “Look how beautiful this is,” I said. “You finally acknowledged something that is valuable to you. You see value with me and you see value with Empower. You’re getting emotional because all of this means something to you. You didn’t have that before.”

Yes, I said to him, it’s not good that we had this hiccup, but we knew it was coming at some point. The fact that he realized he messed up was a massive step in his growth. For the first time in a long time, he believed his body and his life had value. So if he did something to jeopardize that, it was up to him to clean it up—but only he could do that.

Dion’s confession meant the world to me. He was willing to share his truth, which meant he trusted me. I believe for the first time in his life he believed he could be vulnerable and safe.

Seeing Dion revert to his old, destructive behavior was painful. I was glad he found his way back, but I knew we had to make some changes. So I called Tom Cable, who at the time was an assistant head coach with the Seahawks. He is a very close friend and mentor of mine. Tom’s son, Alex, had battled his own addictions and was doing very well. Tom encouraged me to keep working with Dion and try to get him back on the straight and narrow.

The Dolphins gave Dion permission to come back to San Francisco that December. Once again, we drew up a game plan and went to work. Alex Cable came down and lived with Dion for a while, which was awesome. It was just the two of them in Dion’s small apartment. Alex slept on a couch and stayed with Dion all day, even going to AA meetings with him. It helped Dion stay away from alcohol, but it did not save his football career. The Dolphins released him in March.

It was because of Tom that the Seahawks decided to take a chance on Dion by signing him in April 2017. After recovering from his knee injury, which required two surgeries and extensive rehabilitation, Dion finally made his return to the NFL in December. Ironically, it was in a road game against the Arizona Cardinals, not far from where he had lived with his family. Dion and I always had had a vision that he would get a huge sack in his very first game back, and sure enough that’s exactly what happened. Dion was a man possessed that night. Considering he had been out of football for so long, it was an incredible performance. Afterward, he FaceTimed me from the team bus and said through tears, “We did it, T.”

Unfortunately, that success was followed by yet another setback. In May 2019, the NFL suspended Dion for ten games for testing positive for Adderall. It was more of a clerical failure than an effort to cheat. Dion was diagnosed with ADHD when he was young, so he has taken Adderall for most of his life. That is on the NFL’s banned substance list unless the player has the proper medical documentation. Dion let his documentation lapse, so once he tested positive, he was found to be in violation, which, combined with his past positive tests, led to the heavy penalty.

Dion was crushed but hardly defeated. He is in a much better, stronger place now. As I write this, he is training hard to stay in shape while he serves his suspension during the 2019 season. He is working on turning this difficult setback into a productive life lesson. His body is sculpted, down to about eight percent body fat. He got complacent with how he was feeling about himself and figured he could just take his meds and not have to take care of his business. From an alcohol standpoint, though, he has been clean. He’s addicted to health now. He’s not perfect, but he’s evolving, and the best part is that he’s no longer suffering from the disease of fear. Truth has set him free.
Chris Seerveld

Tareq Azim is determined to normalize conversations about mental health. This mission drives his success as a seven-time World Championship attending coach in combat sports, a former Division I linebacker at Fresno State, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, an author, and a philanthropist. He lives in San Francisco.

CBS Sports

Seth Davis is a studio analyst for college basketball at CBS Sports and senior writer at The Athletic. He is the New York Times bestselling author of Wooden: A Coach’s Life and When March Went Mad: The Game Transformed Basketball.

“Tareq’s life story is a study of resilience…he uses a very light touch to open a door to thinking about how faith (any faith) supplements physical and psychological strength to help fight the disease of fear. That is different, and quite frankly very refreshing. The beauty of the path Tareq has chosen is how he takes his life experiences and uses them to help others make their lives better.” –General Paul Selva, retired United States Air Force and 10th Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Empower is very well written, holds the attention of the reader and above all, by example, Tareq opens the path of developing a universalist vision, by becoming compassionate, affectionate, considerate, and utilizing the subconscious nidus of power of our Maker to serve our human family with humility.” –Dr. Bashir Zikria, Professor Emeritus & Special Lecturer at Columbia University Medical Center

“In the last century, we have moved from ignoring trauma to blaming the victim to treating it. However, it’s only in the last few years that we have begun to acknowledge just how pervasive it is. And that’s why Tareq Azim’s Empower could not be more timely” –Hunter Maats, author of The Straight A Conspiracy

“Tareq Azim is a true peaceful warrior. His story is unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and he inspires me every time I’m in his presence. Words don’t do him justice. We all need a Tareq in our life.” –Simon Rex